Herbert Kappler was born on September 23, 1907, to a middle-class family in Stuttgart in the German Empire. Kappler joined the Nazi Party on August 1, 1931 and the SS in 1933. In January 1936, he was assigned to duty at the Gestapo central office of Stuttgart.
In 1937, Kappler graduated from the Führerschule der Sicherheitspolizei (Leadership School of the Security Police) in Berlin as a Kriminalkommissar (criminal commissioner). In 1938, during the Anschluss, he supervised the mass deportations of Austria’s Jews to concentration camps.
Kappler was posted to Rome as head of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and throughout the war years he cooperated closely with the Fascist police. Following the armistice between Italy and the Allies on September 8, 1943, the German military occupied Rome and Kappler was appointed as Chief of the Security Police and Security Service (Oberbefehlshaber des Sicherheitspolizei und SD) for all SS and Order Police (Ordnungspolizei) units deployed in Rome.
Kappler was in charge of Jewish roundups for deportations to Auschwitz. In his first action, 1,023 Italian Jews were deported, of whom only 16 survived. He later arranged the deportation of a further 993 Roman Jews, nearly all of whom eventually died in Nazi gas chambers. During this action, he demanded 110 pounds of gold from the Jewish community in Rome, which he later claimed was an attempt to prevent the round-up and the deportations.
By early 1944, Kappler was the highest representative of the Reich Security Main Office in Rome and answered directly to both the military governorship, under Luftwaffe General Kurt Maelzer, as well as the SS chain of command under the Higher SS and Police Leader of Italy, SS-Obergruppenführer Karl Wolff.
Kappler came into direct conflict with the Vatican, as the Germans had strong suspicions that it was harboring Allied fugitives and escaped prisoners, even though the Vatican under Pope Pius XII was technically neutral. A particular adversary of Kappler’s in this respect was Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, whose activities helping Jewish fugitives and Allied prisoners escape from Rome led to Kappler marking him for assassination.
Kappler organized the Ardeatine massacre, in which 335 Italian civilians were killed on March 24, 1944, as a reprisal for an attack by resistance fighters that had resulted in the deaths of 33 men of the SS Police garrison in Rome.
Trial and Escape
Kappler was arrested by British authorities in 1945, turned over to the Italian government in 1947, and tried the following year by an Italian military tribunal. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Gaeta military prison.
Kappler and his first wife divorced while he was serving his sentence. He later married Anneliese Kappler, a nurse who had carried on a lengthy correspondence with him, before marrying him at a prison ceremony in 1972.
In 1975, at the age of sixty-eight, Kappler was diagnosed with terminal cancer and he was moved to a military hospital in Rome in 1976. Appeals by both his wife and the West German government to release him were denied by Italian authorities, but earned him a transfer to a hospital.
Because of Kappler’s deteriorating condition and his wife’s nursing skills, Anneliese Kappler had been allowed almost unlimited access to him after he was transferred to an Italian hospital. On a visit in August 1977, Kappler’s wife carried him out in a large suitcase (Kappler weighed about (104 pounds at the time) and escaped to West Germany. The Italians demanded that Kappler be returned, but the West Germany authorities refused to extradite him and did not prosecute Kappler for any further war crimes, reportedly owing to ill-health.
Six months after his escape, Kappler died at home in Soltau, on February 9, 1978, aged 70.
In the 1973 feature film Massacre in Rome, which deals with the Ardeatine massacre, Kappler was portrayed by actor Richard Burton. He was portrayed by Christopher Plummer in the 1983 TV film, The Scarlet and The Black, which detailed Kappler’s first meeting with Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty.
Herbert Kappler, Wikipedia.